The Contemplative Tradition in the Ramakrishna
period of eight and a half months that Sri Ramakrishna lived
at the Cossipore garden house is popularly considered to be
the beginning of the monastic community that later became
known as the Ramakrishna Order of monks. What began with a
handful of fiery young men gradually became a religious community
belongingto the Puri sect of the Dashanami tradition. These
monks then took up the mission of living theideal that Sri
Ramakrishna had placed before them and also of spreading his
teachings - teachings that their leader, Swami Vivekananda,
believed to be the gospel for the modern world.
Ramakrishna’s own sadhana was rooted in renunciation - spontaneous
renunciation. And renunciation formed the heart of the monastic
community that he founded. When Sri Ramakrishna chose Narendra
(Swami Vivekananda) as the leader of this group, he also made
him its role model. For Sri Ramakrishna recognized that Narendra
was a dhyana-siddha (an adept in meditation), that
he was never attached to lust and gold, that he was free from
ignorance and delusion, and that he belonged to the class
of ever-free souls. Moreover, he knew that renunciation was
the very soul of Narendra’s life.
when Swamiji was in the West, spreading his master’s message,
he kept the inner flame of renunciation burning in the hearts
of the monks of the Order with his fiery letters. Later, after
he returned to India, he inspired them even more with his
own life and words. In one address to the monastic community,
he described renunciation as ‘love of death’. But he also
told them that they must adapt themselves to a changing world.
Further, he said, ‘You must try to combine in your life immense
idealism with immense practicality.’(1) He wanted the members
of the Order to be no less than the great rishis of ancient
India. He also gave them the motto ‘Atmano mokshartham
jagaddhitaya ca; For one’s own liberation and for the
good of the world’ to guide them in their life. Thus we find
that Swami Vivekananda’s life is the perennial guide for the
Ramakrishna Order, inspiring its members in all their activities.
a hundred and twenty years have passed since the founding
of the Order. Before looking ahead to the future, let us take
a look back. My strong curiosity about the mystery of contemplative
life brought me in touch with some great souls of the Order.
Following are a few brief accounts of some meetings with them:
In the winter of 1959, when I was a young brahmacharin, I
went to the Ramakrishna Mission TB Sanatorium at Dungri, Ranchi.
Soon after I arrived, I found a senior swami sitting alone
in the courtyard of the monks’ quarters. After I prostrated
at his feet, he looked at me and said, ‘Do you hear the anahata
sound?’ Anahata means ‘unstruck’. It is the primordial
spiritual vibration. Startled by such a question, I could
only utter, ‘What?’ He quietly asked again, ‘Do you not hear
the sound of omkar?’ ‘What do you say, Maharaj?’ I
replied. At this he said, ‘Why? I hear it continuously.’ Then
he straightened his back, shut his eyes, and dived deep within
his heart. His woollen wrapper dropped from his back, and
his partly unbuttoned shirt showed his chest. Before my amazed
eyes, the flush on his face spread to his chest, and an ethereal
smile spread over his countenance. Four or five minutes passed.
Then he said softly, ‘When I sit straight I hear the sound
quite distinctly.’ After a moment he said, ‘I first heard
this holy sound in 1911 . Since then I have heard it continuously.
… This sound does not come from outside. It emanates from
the core of the heart and merges back into it. Japat siddhi
- one attains it through japa.’
was Swami Shantananda (1884–1974 ), a disciple of Holy Mother,
Sri Sarada Devi. Once he gave me his personal diary to read,
and in it I found some of his spiritual experiences recorded.
Later he again asked me several times if I had experienced
the anahata sound, and I said no. But he encouraged
me to practise intense japa. When I was leaving for the Himalayas
for six months of tapasya, he reminded me to strive for this
experience. He also gave me some money to get milk regularly,
for such meditation requires strenuous brainwork. On my return,
the first question he asked was if I had heard the sound of
omkar. When I said no, he encouraged me to continue
striving for the experience.